Ulster Rugby youngster Michael Allen wants to show his worth
Michael Allen, Ulster's exciting young wing prospect, is delighted to be starting tonight.
"It's great getting back to it. It has been nice being involved in the past few weeks – I couldn't have asked for anything more than to be involved in the two Heineken Cup games. But when you're a player you want to start, you want to play 80 minutes. Hopefully against the Scarlets I can do that," he said.
With his 23rd birthday now on the horizon – November 28 is the date – Allen is under no illusions.
He knows he is beyond the 'promising prospect' phase. And that he faces a battle royal if he is to win a regular starting place.
"I'm up against three top quality wingers. Tommy (Bowe) is a British Lion and Trimby (Andrew Trimble) and Craig (Gilroy) are both internationals. So I'm just trying my best to get myself noticed and maybe get picked ahead of one of them," he said.
Last season saw him make massive strides in a career he had feared was stagnating.
"Thankfully I was able to make a slight mark, but if I hadn't got as many appearances as I did last year, I don't know where I might have ended up," he said. "I was 21, I hadn't been making much of an impression and I knew there was always likely to be a younger guy coming through ahead of me.
"I'm just really grateful that Mark (Anscombe) came in and gave me an opportunity last year. Thankfully that has carried on into this year, too."
Asked to explain what difference that recognition of his ability had made, he replied: "I think it's just that after a year in which you've played a lot more you have more confidence. This season I believe in myself a bit more on the pitch. I don't feel so much out of my depth as I did last year.
"It's just one of those things – the more you play, the better you become and the better you become the more confidence you have in yourself."
It is remarkable to think that this time 12 months ago the powerfully-built speedster doubted he had an Ulster future.
"At the end of 2011-12 it didn't know where I was," he admitted. "I didn't know if I was going to be joining an English Championship club or if there was even a very small chance that I could be going to a Premiership side. I certainly didn't think that my future was going to be with Ulster and I was really gutted about it.
"It was a tough time, I'm not going to pretend otherwise, I didn't know how or where I stood and I didn't know if I was going to get games.
"I got a development contract by the skin of my teeth, really, so I just wanted to do the best I could to take things on and luckily that happened.
"Now I'm loving where I am and I'm enjoying my rugby again. But it could all have been very different; I would have hated to have had to go away, to tell you the truth.
"My goal this year is to get at least as many Ulster caps as I did last year, hopefully more. I finished the year with 20 caps, so that's one of my goals.
"It's nice to be involved week in, week out, whether I'm starting or on the bench. Now I know the score – I've got games because Craig has been injured. First it was his groin, then it was his ankle. If he'd been fit, probably I wouldn't have been involved in as many games as has happened. I know that.
"But that's rugby; you have to live off your chances when they come your way."
With three tries already this season, he has gone some distance towards answering those who doubted him on that count.
"I know there was a bit of a debate about that last year – whether I could finish and score tries.
Hopefully I've started to prove those people wrong this year.
"Last year if you'd asked people about Michael Allen they probably would have said, 'He's quite strong, quite physical. But does he finish? Does he have a brilliant skills set?'
"But I knew that myself, because I wasn't involving myself in games as much as I should.
"I think that's probably because I wasn't confident, so I was playing within myself. I was scared of making a mistake and then being dropped the next week because of it.
"This year my mentality has just been to get involved as much as possible, go looking for the ball, go looking for work.
"Do that rather than sitting out on the wing waiting for the ball to come to you.
"Don't wait for it to come to you; go looking for it. That's what I've been doing and it has worked for me. My whole psyche has changed. Now when I go into a game, instead of being nervous and not wanting to have the ball, my first instinct is 'Where can I go to get it?' There's a big difference."
If Allen gets the possession in the right areas tonight, Scarlets may discover the reborn wing is playing a whole new ball-game these days.